kids and I love our local library. It’s small, but that’s okay. Parents
squeeze strollers between the stacks while toddlers spread wooden blocks
over the floor. Every now and then, a train goes by, and children watch
it through a window in the back door.
enjoy browsing for books, and if we don’t find what we want, nearly
every children’s title I’ve ever heard of can be ordered from one of the
other branches. Our library is an awesome resource.
even in our library I see echoes of cultural trends that threaten to
separate readers from true diversity of ideas. Librarians, influential
reviewers, and the folks in the publishing industry are gatekeepers to
many people’s reading, and these three groups are overwhelmingly
progressive. This is hugely important, because progressives don’t need
to openly censor or ban books to encourage one view of the world and
suppress another. Their dominance gives them the power to be more
particularly Christians, must reckon with this issue. By definition we
are people whose beliefs are based on recordable, objective truth.
Reading and writing books is what wedo.
It’s how we learn to think and communicate in paragraphs and chapters
instead of slogans. It’s how we learn from the wisdom of people who have
gone before us. It’s how we share stories.
all, reading books is an expression of our belief that truth exists and
can be taught through words. More than films, novels have a peculiar
power over the imagination. Not only do we spend more time with a novel,
we also interact with it on a deeply personal level by using our own
minds to fill in all the visual and auditory details.
can’t control which books we read. However, they do wield huge influence
over which books are considered “marketable,” which books are published,
and which books generate buzz, win awards, or get read during library
story hour. In many cases this is enough to control whether anyone picks
up a given title.
dissident voices is the new weaponde
jure, and it’s no longer confined to social media or university
speaking schedules. It’s affecting publishing and libraries as well. If
we care about bibliophilic independence, we need to realistically assess
ways to exercise the freedom to write, share, and read good books.
A: Publishers Isolate Conservative Books
of the Big Five publishing houses now maintainspecial
imprintsfor conservative authors. In other
words, liberals’ nonfiction is handled throughout the entire publisher,
but conservatives are a special genre to be handled in isolation by
editors who don’t mind it too much. This means conservative authors have
a shorter list of places to which to submit their work and perhaps fewer
chances of making it onto shelves. It’s concerning, especially in light
of what has already happened to the way fiction is published.
upon a time, many popular novels included extensive references to
religion. Books like “Jane Eyre,” “Ben Hur,” and “Christy” come to mind.
Nowadays, of course, we all take it for granted that mainstream fiction
doesn’t talk about Christian faith—thatkind
of stuff belongs on the romance shelf at a Christian bookstore.
the ghettoization of so-called “Christian fiction” hasn’t done much good
for the excellence of either secular or religious literature. It also
doesn’t make sense from a marketing standpoint: Plenty of intelligent,
thinking readers buy the rare mainstream books that engage well with
religion, as evidenced by the reception granted to Marilynne Robinson’s
the general public is less religious than in the past, but at the same
time, the public’s expectations and reading patterns have been shaped by
the books publishers have given us.
to Do: Actively Support Diversity
can push back. Keep track of writers whose work adds depth and diversity
to the conversation. Pre-order the hardcover of their next book. This is
a useful way to help boost an author’s sales because it influences how
many paperback copies the publisher prints and may affect the resources
allocated to marketing the title.
stop there, though. Explore books that sidestep mainstream publishing.
The world of small-press and self-published books is a little wild and
wooly, true. Given the ease of self-publishing today, many books appear
on Amazon without anyone having bothered to edit them, but excellent
writers do publish independently. I am always on the lookout for indie
authors whose fiction explores aspects of goodness, truth, and beauty
while also engaging with life’s hardships in a way Christian publishers
might consider too gritty or intellectual.
do we find these authors? Word-of-mouth is probably the most powerful
promotion for any book. Ask people what they are reading. I useGoodreadsto
follow readers whose taste I trust and have found a wealth of new titles
that way. Independent authors often support each other, so finding and
following even one indie author you like will probably lead to others.
and award organizations are another useful source. Last year I attendedDoxacon,
a conference for Christian geeks aimed at exploring how faith intersects
with speculative fiction. Their lineup of speakers included both
traditionally and independently published authors. I also plan to keep
an eye on theGrace
Realm Awards. Once you discover fresh voices, don’t forget to
support them, starting with an Amazon or Goodreads review.
Rowntree, an indie author whose work I enjoy (this
oneis my favorite) for ideas about how readers
can help independent authors. She brought up the idea of patronage. It
might sound a little old-fashioned, but patronage has always been an
important bridge between the public and artists of all kinds.
often hear conservative readers lament the dearth of one type of book or
another. Rowntree points out that awards could be created to find,
encourage, and publicize specific kinds of books or stories. She also
said, “A review site dedicated to reviewing and promoting high quality
indie literature would also be an excellent form of patronage. … [It]
might uncover a truly high quality work with poor editing and cover
design,” and “could help fund those things, giving the book a better
chance in the marketplace.” I like her idea. In-depth patronage isn’t
possible for everyone, but it is an investment that would benefit all of
B: Publishers Let Activists Limit What’s Published
2016, Scholastic released a picture book about Hercules, an enslaved
African American who was also the first celebrity chef in America.
Influential reviewers and activists slammed the book as racist because
they thought the slaves in the illustrations smiled too much. That mightgive
impressionable children“a dangerously rosy
impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners.”
an atmosphere helps us understand why authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder
are now deemed racist.
even though many people fear “that if we deviate from the narrative of
constant-cruelty we diminish the horror of slavery,” the truth is that
“if we chose to only focus on those who fit that singular viewpoint, we
run the risk of erasing those, like Chef Hercules, who were remarkable,
talented, and resourceful enough to use any and every skill to their own
activists didn’t want merely to engage in debate: They wanted to keep
kids from being able to read a book they’d prejudiced themselves
against. Scholastic soon yielded to the viral campaign and pulled the
title. It is no longer available for purchase except as an extremelyexpensivesecond-hand
book. This washailed
by activistsas a “wonderful victory.”
it is no surprise that publishers and authors increasingly employ
“sensitivity readers,” especially in children’s and young adult
literature These consultants evaluate whether a book contains words that
might qualify as a microaggression, stereotyping, or otherwise offend
racial and sexual minorities. Sensitivity readers might flag anything
like“low man on the totem pole” to entireplot
conceptsdeemed offensive. Such an atmosphere
helps us understand why authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder arenow
and research are good, but too much fear of saying the wrong thing feeds
the idea that readers cannot be trusted to evaluate ideas for
themselves, or even to read a variety of books and form a complete
picture over a period of time. Instead, each book must present a
completely correct picture of the world according to certain progressive
principles. Let’s hope those sensitivity readers are familiar with the
to Do: Use Older Books to See People Are Complicated
key principle in progressive morality is the belief that an individual’s
happiness is paramount—so long as achieving it doesn’t make a person not
nice to others. Not only should people should do what makes them happy,
but being a nice, happy person proves one is right.
instance, gay marriage is demonstrated to be morally good by presenting
stories about nice gay couples whom marriage makes happy. That is why it
is immoral from a progressive standpoint to let children read stories in
which nice, happy people believe the “wrong” things. Ultimately this
line of reasoning is cruelly intolerant, because it forces society to
accept that anyone who clings to socially unacceptable beliefs is
obviously miserable and not-nice (i.e., evil).
activists are missing something big: The whole point of reading
literature is to learn about the beautiful, frustrating, crazy
complexities and nuances of life. Even children need stories that begin
to help them address questions such as, How can nice people do horrible
things? How can flawed people do beautiful things? How can we show love
to each other even if we’re all flawed? as well as, Why should we do the
right thing even if it makes us feel unhappy?
true that literature should teach us to hate evil ideas and fight
against injustice, but it should also help us put our self-righteousness
into perspective. Reading books froma
range of time periodshelps in this regard. When
we look at the ways old stories mingle universal truth with attitudes or
cultural beliefs we now reject, we can begin to realize that life is
complicated enough to require a little humility.
not hard to imagine a day when books that conflict with progressive
values go out of print, are pulled from library shelves, and become
harder to find. They won’t all be online—some will be too obscure, and
some will still be under copyright.
it’s worth squirreling books away. Save history books that portray the
world in an old-fashioned way. These include story books that celebrate
the traditional family and memoirs that portray the dangers of communism
or other belief systems no longer feared by the American masses. They
might be quite a treasure someday.
C: Public Libraries Are Being Weaponized
though libraries receive public funding to conserve books, librarians as
a group arenot
conservative. My library system hosts a drag queen story hour for
toddlers, explicitly designed to “broaden” their perceptions of gender
roles. This reflects the recommendations of the American Library
Association, which provides local librarianslistsof
LGBTQ books aimed at ages 2 through 5.
materials for the new sexual revolution increasingly slip into
mainstream library events as well. Each year, public and school
libraries across the nation compile a list of titles for “Battle of the
Books,” a popular reading competition for elementary students.
year, Alex Gino’s “George” was included on the list used in Oregon.
laudssex-change surgery and hormone therapy for
children and gives the false impression that those techniques have been
proven simple, safe, and effective in allowing kids to look like the
opposite sex. (It is ironic that even though the ALAhosts
an annual celebrationof books parents have
challenged, mostly because of sexual content, they simultaneously
determined Wilder’s novels aretoo
one thing when a library buys a copy of a picture book about same-sex
parents. It is another thing entirely when political activists use
libraries as megaphones. Politicized libraries no longer function as a
common meeting place where families of every political persuasion can
comfortably browse, mingle, and find fun reads. They become an
environment that keeps some families away.
to Do: Use Your Local Library With Caution
of the bulletin boards on display in the entryway, libraries are still
rich in books. We can do small things to help those books stay around.
one, libraries keep track of which books patrons check out. Volumes no
one reads are more likely to be culled. The obvious conclusion? Go to
your library and check out great titles and authors, especially older
ones that may be out-of-print.
also consider patron requests when spending their annual book budget, so
don’t be afraid to request books by authors you think would benefit your
community. And, of course, if your library does hold a book sale to get
rid of those titles, you should probably stock up on them. They won’t
kids and I have found so many “meh” and downright dodgy titles in the
children’s section that I now usemy
favorite book listsbefore we go in. As they
grow older and begin to browse more freely on their own, it will
important for me to teach them torecognize
the ideologyin the books they read.
Books Do No Good Unless We Read Them
children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean won the prestigiousCarnegie
Medalthis year, and focused her acceptance
audience of a trend in children’s publishing. She decried the push to
make books “accessible”—i.e., easier to read—and said kids are being
robbed of the rich language they need to learn to think well and to
resist being easily manipulated.
right that reading books rich in vocabulary, ideas, and artistry are a
huge part of learning to be someone capable of freedom. We need to read,
and we need to read the right stuff. Current cultural trends aren’t
going to lead us to the right stuff. Finding good books today requires
that we actively seek them out.
we do that, though, we aren’t done. We still face the biggest challenge
of all: good books often require hard work. Not just will-power, but the
deliberate cultivation of skills and habits.
easy to decry the busyness of modern life and thedistractibilityof
the smartphone era. Let’s not turn that lament into an abdication of
responsibility. We can choose to read. We can learn (or relearn!) how to
actually enjoy Plutarch, “Frog and Toad,” Dorothy Sayers, and the King
beauty of all this is that extensive reading will educate our taste. We
will grow better and better at recognizing both artistic merit and
profound thinking in books. That is the best single thing we can do if
we care enough to fight for bibliophilic independence. And if we don’t?
Perhaps we should give up our claim to be conservatives.
Mussmann is a stay-at-home mom who writes during nap time. She is
fascinated by old books, ideas, and historic philosophies of education.
Her work can also be found on the blog www.sisterdaughtermotherwife.com.
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